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Parents fear intelligent-design backlash

Parents who want a reference to "intelligent design" removed from biology class say they fear their children would be adversely affected by their school district's policy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A parent who is among eight families suing to have "intelligent design" removed from a school district's biology curriculum said he feared his daughter wouldn't be accepted by other students because of her views.

Steven Stough, whose 14-year-old daughter is enrolled in high-school biology this year in the Dover Area School District, testified Friday that she would probably ask to be excused during the reading of the statement concerning intelligent design — unless the policy is overturned by the court.

Asked to describe the consequences she would suffer as a result of refusing to hear the statement, Stough said, "She's harmed by that because she's no longer part of the accepted school community."

Stough was among the last witnesses called to testify by the plaintiffs' lawyers in the landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be mentioned in public school science classes. Lawyers for the school board expect to begin presenting their case Monday.

Like other parents involved in the lawsuit, Stough said he believes intelligent design is essentially the same as Bible-based creationism and that the school board overstepped its bounds when it approved the policy that requires the reading of the intelligent-design statement.

"They have usurped my authority to be the one in charge of my daughter's religious education," Stough said.

Religion or science?
Patrick Gillen, one of the lawyers who represents the school district, asked Stough if his opinion of intelligent design would change if he could show it was based on science.

"If you were to show me valid testing that supports intelligent design, yes," Stough responded.

Dover's school board voted a year ago to require students to hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution.

The statement says Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called "Of Pandas and People" for more information.

The families contend that the policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Intelligent-design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the emergence of complex life forms.

Education disrupted?
Another parent, Joel Lieb, testified that he would advise his 13-year-old son to leave class when the statement is read if the policy is in place when he takes ninth-grade biology next year.

But Lieb added that regardless of whether his son hears the statement, the policy will disrupt his education.

"Every second he's in class listening to it, or out of class protesting it, is a second he's not learning," Lieb said.

Scientifically inaccurate?
Kevin Padian, a paleontologist and professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. He said "Of Pandas and People" is scientifically inaccurate because it ignores evidence from the fossil record that demonstrates how life forms changed over time.

Additionally, Dover's intelligent-design statement confuses students about evolution and raises both religious and scientific questions, Padian said.

"I think it makes people stupid," he said. "It confuses them about things that are well accepted in science."

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.